Public Media: 7 Ways To Monetize Quality TV

Nonprofit public media--and most especially public broadcasting--will embrace interactive Web tools that connect companies, producers and distributors of content and their target consumers in ways they once considered "commercial." Three words of advice: Get over it.

Monetizing the content, causes and communities that define public media--without compromising its noncommercial standards--is just good business. And it assures its future financial viability. Public media can creatively use Web 2.0 tools to leverage its strong ties to special-interest, activist consumers to generate revenues in order to offset declines in foundation, sponsorship, membership and government funding. There will be many legitimate ways for public media projects to monetize third-party e-commerce that are consistent with their mission. Interactivity--the great equalizer--has made media all about connections, not commercials.

Monetize consumer engagement Often a catalyst for civil action and education, public media can raise funds as it raises awareness. The Web's long tail of special interests pulls together disparate concerns, but it lacks public media's high-quality, influential content. Affinity scales can be developed that allow viewers to set the price they are willing to pay. Once the tools are developed to facilitate and qualify voluntary consumer "payments" and donations, they could supplement old styles of paid membership. It is the interactive antithesis to Customer Relationship Management, the largely unquantifiable piecemeal attempt to create pre-priced experiences, products and services for customers on traditional media platforms. Both approaches ultimately lead to the same objective--a transaction--from which public media can share connection fees.



Monetize proactive content by attracting investor support/

An estimated $3.5 trillion of available investment funds are on the sidelines in the U.S.--as much as $40 trillion worldwide--as a result of the credit crunch, cautious lending and economic turmoil. There is a precedent for conditional, nonprofit investing that simultaneously advances social goals and business interests. The Nonprofit Finance Fund has lent more than $160 million and leveraged $1 billion of capital investment on behalf of its nonprofit clients. Beyond direct lending, in partnership with others, NFF has generated $16 million for nonprofits for building reserves, cash reserves and endowments through its multi-year asset-building product.

The Facebook-only application "Causes" promotes viral donations of time and money. It already has more than 12 million users supporting more than 80,000 nonprofit organizations after launching only a year ago. Founders Fund's Sean Parker (who has helped found Facebook, Napster and Plaxo) is dedicated to find ways to use viral world elements to encourage activism and altruism. Strategically connecting public media content to public mobilization tools can enhance the effectiveness and value of both.

Monetize social-marketing connections

Influential social applications and networks can be developed around niche content to drive a continuous loop of relevant links and communications. Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff suggest creating social "technographic" profiles to better understand and cater to the ways that consumers participate online: as creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and "inactives." Building and maintaining permission-based data consumer profiles will be instrumental in creating specialized content as well as attracting funds. Such tools are also powerful platforms for creating and mobilizing publics around shared concerns.

Social Graphs are among the many tools available to track and analyze changes in consumer behavior and interests--whether using social media resources, such as Ning, or piggybacking on existing platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. The goal is to design value-added interactive social applications around content that can be integrated into existing activities. Companies will pay for ongoing interaction with target consumers that returns research, recommendations and transactions.

Monetize interactive local connections

Mining local digital connections plays to public media's heart and soul. Public broadcasting and NPR are rich with examples of creatively transforming what they do best on traditional media platforms for an interactive marketplace. They include a showcase of local residents' personal war stories and a virtual "Living in St. Louis" album of six-minute online videos (inspired by Ken Burns' "War" documentary). WFPL reaches out in new ways, operating live from a designated Twitter site with rolling news feeds, interaction residents of Louisville, Ky. and American Public Media's "Budget Hero" online game that allows users to determine how the federal budget will be raised and spent. Such uses of social media and interactivity can be leveraged into key fund-raising vehicles. Public media can improve on the estimated 18% of consumers who regularly back up their patronage with cash donations, while providing virtual platforms for community collaboration.

Monetize signature quality content

Organizations, corporations, social and civic groups can effectively distinguish themselves and their causes in a sea of cyber-clutter by aligning with public media's uniquely focused content. Its well-regarded news and public affairs programs remain virtually unscathed at a time when the genre is under siege and under-monetized. Public media projects can do for enterprising news and public affairs what Craigslist has done for classified advertising. They offer the signature in-depth reporting that local newspapers and local television stations are abandoning at a time when some nonprofit journalism outlets, such as The Nation and Mother Jones, are being recognized for their efforts.

WETA's new weekly interactive TV series "YourWeek," driven by the top stories on the social news site Reddit, could become a successful contrarian franchise and cornerstone to PBS' digital news and information hub, supported by all interactive elements, including community, commerce and communication.

Monetize "free" versus so-called "payment"

Providing free alternative content historically has been public media's enticement in order to raise funds through membership pledges. The concept can be effectively transferred to the digital marketplace--as well as adopted by public media makers that are not affiliated with traditional public broadcasting.

One option is to establish a central-funding mechanism to encourage, facilitate and process online discretionary donations from users. A logo and click-through arrangement could be affixed to public media online as a solicitation for funds. Another approach is to allocate a set portion from every dollar spent in select places on particular Web sites for public media projects.

Still another option would be to create a clearinghouse site where consumers can check off the public media projects they want to support and make their online donations--working with Google, IBM and others to create customized algorithmic frameworks to measure, quantify and monetize digital consumers.

Individual consumer data collected in a single place can be leveraged and transported across content, services and companies. This user profile will be used to determine a consumer's viral value to others, as well as the content, products and services important to individuals. The equivalent of advertising comes in the form of cross-subsidies (free products entice you to buy something else), or open software and platforms designed to accomplish other things (the gift economy).

There will be many legitimate ways for public media projects to monetize third party e-commerce, consistent with their mission. Transactions are the end-game for advertisers and sponsors. Interactivity, the great equalizer, has made media all about connections, not commercials.

Monetize independent, third-party content distribution

Public broadcasting recently launched a broadband video management enterprise called the Platform to publish and manage national programs on branded, sponsor-supported Web sites and to PBS stations. It agreed to distribute select content through and share in the revenues generated by the 30-second commercials that bookend each program. Like its commercial counterparts, PBS also has negotiated download deals with iTunes, BitTorrent and Vuze that provide consumers with access to competitively priced branded series and specials, which can be similarly monetized with 50-50 revenue-sharing models.

Public broadcasting's most successful third-party ventures to date center on its exemplary children's programming, which interfaces with parent monitoring of children's skills to special activities downloads. The Sprout digital children's program tier, created in partnership with Comcast, the country's dominant cable system operator, is a good example of how public broadcasting can generate revenues through cable subscriptions for its most prestigious niche content.

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